“It all falls apart at 40”

21 Sep

I went to TJ Maxx a couple of days ago and overheard two women talking. The younger one was looking at a form fitting dress, and the older said she should get it. The younger woman said, “Well, I’ve had plantar fasciitis and can’t run — I’m trying to get clothes that hide my body, not show it off.”

The older woman said, “Yeah, it all falls apart at 40.”

This is a pretty common mantra, even these days with the “40 is the new 30” math. Things just seem to happen to our bodies that we can’t control, even when we’re doing the things we can control like eating healthy and exercising. Honestly, it’s pretty crappy as universal truths go.

My grandmother will be 99 in two and a half months. I have almost never heard her complain about her body, ever. I grew up in the same town as my grandparents, traveled with them extensively throughout my childhood and teens, and she’s stayed at my house in recent years for a month at a time. suffice it to say, I’ve spent a lot of time with this lady. And I can probably count on my hands the number of times I’ve heard her complain about her physical condition, even when she was going through radiation for salivary gland cancer, after a car accident (she wasn’t driving) where her back kept spasming, when she broke her shoulder years ago.

I asked her a year or two ago how menopause was for her, and she was genuinely confused for a minute. She didn’t remember, she said. Didn’t remember? I can only assume that’s because it wasn’t the terrible, awful, no good, very bad thing it is made out to be these days. I can’t see her drinking barley green shakes or taking whatever Chinese herb is the latest cure, nor using hormone replacement therapy, at any rate. She probably barely brought it up to her doctor!

My grandmother has had remarkable health and longevity, but she still has high blood pressure, has had a blood clot, has been widowed, has lost most of her friends, has had cancer and broken bones and all sorts of regular human ailments. What she hasn’t had is our modern culture’s obsession with her body. She has always dressed to the nines – if she’s in jeans and flats and a casual shirt and we decide to go to lunch, she has to change. She wore high heels until she was 90. She wears makeup, and goes to the beauty parlor once a week to have her hair done. She loves jewelry. But she is now, and has always been in my memory, content with herself.

What I mean by that is, she’s known how to age gracefully. This is not to say that we shouldn’t be as healthy as we can be, and take care of ourselves, and try to present our “best face.” (And yes, I’m guilty of going grocery shopping in my workout clothes, too!) But I, and so many of my peers, are really caught up in looking like we did when we were 20. One glance at Pinterest and you can find 40-somethings pinning women with 10% body fat, six-pack abs, harsh workouts, fad diets, and all the rest. I find myself feeling uncomfortable in my body as much or more as I feel good in it. Am I fat? No.

So what is our problem? Why can’t we be content to just be the best – and normal – forty-something we can be? Mostly, I blame the media. I know, I know, it’s fashionable to blame the media for everything. That doesn’t mean it’s not true.  Madonna. Demi Moore. Heather Locklear. Brooke Shields. Christie Brinkley. Elle McPherson. Cindy Crawford. They’re our age, and look decades younger. Why? Mostly, it’s their job. (Yes, good genes play a part!) They are paid to look good. Their lives really revolve around their physical appearance and what jobs that can get them. And if that were my job, I’d have to have trainers and chefs and nutritionists and plastic surgeons on speed dial, too.


The problem for the rest of us is that we don’t live like that. We live out our regular, albeit extraordinary, lives without a cavalcade of makeup artists and stylists and trainers, in clothes we can afford, with hair going gray and bodies that are, quite frankly, almost half a century old. My body’s given me decades of great service, so why am I always complaining about/to it? Why don’t I appreciate the fact that I am (mostly) healthy, I’m strong, I can do pretty much anything I set my mind to (even if I get a lot more tired doing it)? Why am I obsessed with the fat around my waist?

Just look around you! We have a schizophrenic society. People are either obese or obsessed with being thin. There are fewer and fewer in between, fewer and fewer who, like my grandmother, do their best to be healthy but fully accept that 47 is not actually the new 27, and 67 isn’t the new 47… And that’s ok. We lose something when we are so focused on our bodies. We lose something when we are so discontent that sitting in the car leads to an internal debate about whether our pants fit right. We lose something when all we see is what is wrong with our bodies instead of all the things that are miraculously right.

Elle McPherson

What we need to be is strong enough and healthy enough to live the life we’ve been given. If you’re not that strong and healthy, then by all means, undertake a program to get you there. Not get you in size 6 jeans – get you to the place where you can live. Where you can be all that you were brought into this world to be, and do all that you were brought into this world to do. If you were brought here to be a supermodel, more power to you. I believe people are called to be models and athletes and actors, and the condition of your body will be of much more import to your walk than mine. But if you are called to touch other people in ways that only you can do, and if you are called to travel for the Kingdom (near or far), and if you are called to love… Then be healthy enough, and strong enough to do that. Focus on that. The size of the pants you’re wearing when you give someone the gift of life really won’t matter.

4 Responses to ““It all falls apart at 40””

  1. Graham September 21, 2012 at 10:20 am #

    I find it absolutely amazing that any women or man for that matter should ever worry ( or add one gray hair of concern) over what anybody else thinks of them. We only have to be love ourselves, for who we are and not how we look!
    My gorgeous 47 yr old wife, is beautiful inside and out, my opinion of her has nothing to do with physical beauty, and everything to do with grace, kindness, spirit and soul!

    • Jennings September 21, 2012 at 11:11 am #

      Well said! Rebecca is a lucky gal!

  2. ShimonZ September 26, 2012 at 3:07 pm #

    I agree with you, and think you advice is important to women your age. The need to look you is essentially irrelevant to most people. As we grow older, other valuable characteristics and talents should be developing. And there are so many variations of beauty that have nothing to do with the way models look. Keep your grandmother in mind. She sounds like a truly healthy human being.

    • Jennings September 26, 2012 at 5:06 pm #

      If I can be like my grandmother when I grow up, I’ll be a lucky woman! Thanks for reading!

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